“I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was in the third grade, but where I grew up—in rural Arkansas—a person was more likely to walk on the moon than write a book. I continued to write through high school, and I had teachers who encouraged me, but when I got to college and had to make a decision about what I really wanted to be, I chickened out and took the academic route instead of pursuing creative writing.
“I didn’t look back until the summer my dad was killed in a plane crash. It was Father’s Day weekend. I was studying for my doctoral comprehensive exams and had decided I couldn’t afford to take time off to go see him. I changed my mind on that Friday and called to tell him I was going to drive in on Saturday so we could spend some time together. He was excited. There were cars lined up along the street when I pulled up to the house Saturday afternoon. My mom came out and told me that my dad was dead.
“Things like that make you rethink your life. My dad loved to give practical advice; he wanted me to be a dentist. But in his own life, he was a dreamer. And I think some part of him knew, even when I had given in to doubt, that I was going to be a writer someday. ‘Write my story,’ he’d tell me over and over again.
“About a year after he died, when I was working on my dissertation, I kept hearing him say that in my mind—’Write my story.’ I finished my degree, but my heart had already given over to my resurrected dream of being a writer.
“When I got settled into my teaching job here in Nashville, I started writing with diligence and discipline. It was short stories at first. I have a completed draft of a novel telling my dad’s story, The Crop Duster’s Daughter, which I hope to go back and revise when I’m brave enough.
“And then Mouse came to me—just a vision of a young woman standing on the edge of a battlefield—and I was hooked. I had to know who she was and where and when she was. That led to about a year’s worth of research (who knew those doctoral research skills would come in so handy). The research took me to 13th-century Bohemia and the reign of this young king, Ottakar, who was just and innovative but terribly ambitious—for all the right and wrong reasons. Everything just fell into place after that. Mouse was home. And Bohemian Gospel was born.
“That part of the process was exhilarating, but the next part—finding a publisher—was excruciating. My agent had the novel out on submission, and folks loved it, but they were also reluctant to take a risk on a debut author.
“Which is how the Claymore Award changed everything.
“I was really wrestling with self-doubt at the time, and I almost didn’t submit. But my husband reminded me that if I was committed to the long game, I had to keep putting my work out there and be patient and trust that something good would eventually happen. And it did.
“As anyone at the Killer Nashville awards dinner could probably tell you, I was absolutely unprepared for Bohemian Gospel to win. Just being named a finalist had given me a boost of confidence, and the conference itself had been incredibly insightful and encouraging—many of the sessions were giving me new things to consider and my fellow authors at the editor’s round table felt like instant friends.
“When I got home late that night, I emailed my agent to tell her that I’d won. She immediately sent the news to editors who had the manuscript but hadn’t responded yet. There were several folks interested in it, but I had increasingly become convinced that a smaller publisher was what I wanted.
“I wanted people who would love Mouse like I did, people who would champion Bohemian Gospel, people who would walk me through the process and treat me like a partner in that process rather than just as a product to be sold. I especially had my eye on Pegasus Books.
“And then, thanks to the Claymore, they had their eye on me.
“So far, the relationship has been everything I hoped for—they are wonderful! We’ve already sold the German and the Serbian language rights. The book is headed to galleys and is due out November 15th. It’s up for pre-order at IndieBound and at Amazon.”
– Dana Carpenter, Bohemian Gospel